Are You Sick At Work? COVID-19 & Other Considerations For A Healthy Workplace

We’ve all been there … sore throat, throbbing headache, fever, chills, horrible cough … is your workplace really the best place to be when you feel like you’ve been steamrolled? Probably not. Why do we try to “buck up” and tend to go to work anyways? That’s another story. Whether it’s the fear of falling behind, appearing uncommitted to the role/organization, etc., our workforce has demonstrated an undeniable trend of attending work even when we are feeling under the weather and may be contagious. According to a recent study conducted by Accountemps, “89% of professionals in Canada admitted they’ve at least sometimes come to the office with cold or flu symptoms” (Accountemps, 2019).

It probably comes as no surprise that healthy workplaces are a hot topic these days. The name on everyone’s lips is COVID-19, originally referred to as the Coronavirus.  You can’t escape it … it’s all over the news and unfortunately, there is plenty of misinformation. False information quickly fuels panic and can lead to fear and the hoarding behaviors we’ve been hearing about such as stockpiling masks and food and toilet paper. Despite the fear that is spreading, Coronavirus is defined as a large family of viruses which includes the common cold and, while unpleasant, most people recover fairly quickly.

If you have what feels like a million unanswered questions, especially as an employer, you’re not alone. With the Internet being a voracious hub these days, let us try to ease your uncertainty in a few areas using information from reliable sources:

Q:  What do I do if an employee calls in sick?

A:   As an Employer, the first thing to do is to refer to your organization’s Sick Time Policy (if one is in place). At a minimum, this policy should outline specifics such as the number of days the employee is entitled to take off; whether it is paid or unpaid time off; if the employee is required to provide a doctor’s note; etc.

Don’t have a Sick Time Policy? It’s important that whatever action you take as an employer, you are following your provincial employment legislation. For example, employees in Alberta are entitled to 5 days of unpaid job protected leave. However, Ontario only protects 3 days.

What is your organization going to do to plan, prepare, prevent and protect for an outbreak that can disrupt our work and workplaces? If you need help interpreting legislation or would like to update or develop a Sick Leave Policy, Salopek & Associates is only a call away!

Q:  I have employees working in the US returning to Canada next week. How should I handle this?

A:   Have a conversation with the employees to determine if they were travelling outside of the designated work located and exactly where they went. If they can work remotely from home, it may be prudent to have them self-isolate for the incubation period of 14 days.

  • If no symptoms surface, the employee(s) should return to their regular place of work.
  • If symptoms start to appear at some point during the 14 days, they should CALL 811 and their doctor’s office immediately for further instructions and follow-up with a call to their manager.
  • If symptoms start to appear following the employee(s) return to work after the 14 days, the employer needs to use their discretion … do the symptoms resemble those of a common cold or do they appear to be something else such as shortness of breath accompanied by a fever?

Each organization has its own unique requirements to maintain a healthy workplace. There is no “one size fits all” approach … employer’s need to look at each situation individually and determine what is in the best interests of the safety of the workplace and all those working there or visiting.

Conversely, if you have international operations and require employees to travel but they are refusing to do so under the current COVID-19 outbreak, how do you manage occupational requirements of the job? Contact Salopek & Associates and we will discuss best practices relative to your unique situation.

Q:  I’m an employee and have just returned from vacation in South America. Should I be worried?

A:   If you have traveled through an affected area (Hubei province, China; Iran; South Korea; Northern Italy or Japan – check with CDC or WHO as this is changing daily), there may be restrictions on your movements for up to 14 days. If you develop symptoms during this period (fever, cough, difficulty breathing), CALL 811 and your doctor’s office and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms. They will give you instructions on how to get care for yourself without exposing other people to your illness.

While sick, avoid contact with people – don’t go out and delay any non-essential travel to reduce the possibility of spreading illness to others. If you are ill and absolutely have to go out, wear a mask to avoid spreading droplets through sneezing and coughing. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze or cough and throw it away afterwards. If you don’t have a tissue, cough into your bent elbow, not your hand. WASH YOUR HANDS FREQUENTLY.

Q:  What is a Pandemic Plan and do I need one?

A:   Simply put, a Pandemic Plan is a documented strategy created by a business to ensure continuity of operations in the event of a geographically widespread outbreak of a dangerous infectious disease. A well thought out Pandemic Plan will detail how the business will continue to operate and provide essential services in the event of significant employee absenteeism.

Does every organization and business require a Pandemic Plan? The short answer is NO; however, the risks and danger of a pandemic are real, so it’s prudent for organizations to review their business continuity programs, and to think about it and prepare for it. Pandemics bring unique challenges. Employers should develop a plan that can help your organization be better prepared in the event an epidemic becomes a pandemic. Contact Salopek & Associates if you have any questions or need guidance.

Q:  I have noticed some discrimination taking place at our workplace given the current COVID-19 outbreak, how do I address this?

A:   Since the emergence of COVID-19 we have seen instances of public stigmatization among specific populations, and the rise of harmful stereotypes. Stigmatization could potentially contribute to more severe health problems, ongoing transmission, and difficulties controlling infectious diseases during an epidemic. Do your part. Governments, citizens, media, key influencers and communities have an important role to play in preventing and stopping stigma. We all need to be intentional and thoughtful when communicating on social media and other communication platforms, showing supportive behaviors around COVID-19. (World Health Organization – Situation Report 35)

Stigmatization hurts everyone by creating undue fear or anger towards other people. Everyone can help stop the stigma related to COVID-19 by knowing the facts and sharing them with others in your community; by raising awareness citing reputable medical sources; and, most importantly, by speaking out against negative behaviours and statements on social media.

No matter where you are, remember to follow these tips to help protect yourself and those around you:

  • Wash your hands FREQUENTLY with soap and water. If soap and water is not readily available, then use at least a 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Exercise, get adequate sleep and follow a healthy diet to help keep your immune system in shape
  • Avoid touching your face and particularly your nose, mouth and eyes especially if you haven’t washed your hands
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue and dispose of it immediately … if you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow
  • Clean and disinfect all frequently touched objects and hard surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or disinfecting wipes
  • Try to avoid crowded spaces to minimize your risk of catching a communicable disease
  • With the spread of COVID-19, practice social distancing when you are around others

Use your common sense … it you don’t feel well and think you are experiencing any of the symptoms associated with COVID-19 (fever, cough, shortness of breath) or any other infectious diseases, stay home, self-isolate and CALL 811 and your doctor’s office immediately.

If, as an employer, you are unsure of what to do, how to communicate with your employees, don’t have a current Sick Leave Policy or would like to develop a Pandemic Plan, as your HR partner we are here to help and guide you. Reach out to us at info@salopekconsulting.com or 1-877-681-1232.

References

About Sharon Kolodychuk

Sharon is a Chartered Professional in Human Resources and a dedicated HR Generalist with over 20 years of experience across a variety of industries in six provinces. She is a creative and innovative thinker with strong technical skills in the areas of: employee relations; management coaching; employment law; workplace mediations; recruitment and onboarding; training and development; performance management; benefits administration; employee recognition and rewards; and, HR operations. Sharon believes in building strong relationships based on trust, respect and integrity, and is recognized as a trusted Advisor and HR business partner for all levels within an organization.

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